This month, my Parker Huang Fellowship officially ended, and I flew back to New York to recuperate and see my family before figuring out my next step. So far, all I’ve figured out is that I want to be in Panama for at least a couple of more months or maybe until the end of the year — writing, volunteering and teaching English — and then:
I’ve never been in this situation before. A fellowship is a good way to ease into the real world, a safety net. But now I’m in the same position as many of my classmates were when we graduated from Yale last year — exciting and frightening.
I’m thankful to have received this fellowship, to have had the opportunity to try out freelancing with financial support, to live in a different country for a year, to have met many amazing people from around the world, to have been given the chance to publish several articles. And thank you to everyone who read my blog and writing throughout!
My most recent article published in Ozy is a brief historical account of Marcus Garvey’s travels through Central America in the beginning of his career at the start of the 20th century. These travels inspired him to start the UNIA and sparked the beginning of his black nationalist ideology. If anyone’s interested in reading the original source materials for this article, let me know!
To punctuate the end of Black Ethnicity Month in Panama, I watched the first episode of a new Panamanian sitcom “Los Brownies,” about a black family from Colon province, who move to a rich neighborhood in Panama City. As is evident from the title, the show has no pretension of subtlety or nuance. The Brown family — who joke they are nicknamed “Brownies” because of their chocolate skin color — is an exaggerated stereotype of uncultured country hicks. Continue reading
I sat for an interview about my writing project with Bani Amor, a freelance travel writer who publishes a series called “Dispatches: Conversations with Writers of Color on Race, Place & Adventure” on the site “Everywhere All The Time.” You can read the interview and see more of Bani’s writing at this link: http://baniamor.com/2014/05/27/dispatch-negrisimo/
Yesterday, Equal Times, a Belgian progressive labor rights magazine, published my article “Is Racism Behind Panama’s Canal Zone Land Grabs?” about potential government evictions in Arco Iris, Colon. I’ve been following this grassroots movement since October, from that month’s highway blockades to the recent decision to bring a Supreme Court case against the national government. Continue reading
At the highest peak in Panama!
I wrote a personal essay for Panama Cybernews, a newsletter for Afro Panamanians around the world, on my experience climbing Volcan Baru, the highest peak in Panama. The article doesn’t appear online without a subscription, but I re-posted the text below. Continue reading
On March 21st, the Foro Afropanameno hosted a conference with Panama’s May 2014 presidential candidates. Each candidate (or his/her respective representative) denounced structural anti-black discrimination and promised to improve the economic and social development of Panamanian blacks. Of the three candidates slated to win the election, only Juan Carlos Navarro showed up to make a speech. (Jose Domingo and Juan Carlos Varela sent their VPs/reps.) Navarro charmed the crowd from the get-go by speaking in English, an important sticking point especially for English-speaking Afro-Antilleans, many of who value the language as part of their culture.
Navarro and several candidates who followed him used the pronoun “we,” when talking about the struggles blacks have faced in Panama. Several in the crowd seemed to appreciate it as a nod to the fact that most Panamanians have some African heritage. But it brings up important issues of identity politics and privilege Continue reading
On March 15th, I went to my first Pollera Conga festival in Portobelo, a small town in the province of Colon. Starting in the 16th century, some African slaves brought to the province’s regions of Costa Arriba and Costa Abajo managed to escape into Panama’s dense forests and begin their own communities. Eventually, many came down from the forests and founded the town of Portobelo. The town’s citizens are direct descendants of these escaped slaves, the latter sometimes called “cimarrones” or “wild ones”/”maroons.” (Many photos at the bottom of this post under the jump. EDIT: SORRY, PHOTOS NOW ADDED!)
Today, I had a short piece published in Ozy on the life and evolution of calypso music in Panama. In reporting this piece, I was excited to take a break from the heavy topics I usually follow. I sat in on a calypso band practice, traveled to a Caribbean-influenced archipelago, and spoke with musicians and teachers who were genuinely in love with their art. It was hard for me to narrow down to 600 words — I learned so much about the genre that I wasn’t able to include in the Ozy piece. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Thanks to all who have followed this blog and contacted me personally! I appreciate the support.
Last Monday, I hopped on a bus and rode nine hours to Bocas del Toro, a set of islands in the Caribbean Sea, in the northwest corner of Panama.
I had three goals: 1) report for a short piece I’m writing, 2) make contacts for a future long-term stay in the region, and 3) enjoy lots of sun and beach. I’m happy to say I accomplished all three. Photos below.